In the beginning in a new place you feel like you’re floating because everyone else is busy. They are not used to including you in their plans and you don’t have any of your own busy-ness yet. My first day in the MEDA office in Kayin, Myanmar there was a matching event between rice millers and milling equipment suppliers. With so many people around, it took me awhile to figure out who my colleagues were! In my first interactions, Burmese people came across as very kind and often shy. I felt shy too because I couldn’t express myself in the ways I was used to; but whenever I smiled at someone I received a genuine smile in return and I couldn't shake the feeling of being so very lucky to be in such a beautiful country.
Now that I've found my feet, I'm confident in most interactions because that first impression of kindness has proven consistently true. People have a beautiful knack for anticipating others’ needs in practical and humble ways. One day I mentioned to a co-worker what I was going to cook for lunch in the office, and five minutes later I spotted him quietly shifting the gas cooker into the shade for me.
Anyone in a new country is vulnerable and relies heavily on the kindness of others.
Every time I adjust to living in a new culture, I learn afresh how difficult it must be for newcomers in Canada. They are learning a new culture and new ways of doing thing. I recommit to trying to offer help in useful and empowering ways. I know what it's like to feel stupid when you're not really stupid, just learning to do familiar things in new ways you haven't experienced before. Equity is ensuring people have what they need, given their unique situation. Kind souls here have helped me bridge the gap by being attentive to what might be challenging for me given my unique situation as foreigner.
People often say it is better to give than receive; and that is true in part. However, in humanitarian professions we have the tendency to lean too far and feel uncomfortable receiving help from others. This can accentuate the power imbalance and maybe even dishonour the people we work alongside.
Our human relationships are built to work both ways.
Despite knowing all this and accepting my vulnerability, sometimes I still feel embarrassed by people's kindness to me.
Even in transactional situations Myanmar people are very generous. Purchases often come with useful added bonuses. My second-hand bike was installed with a basket, bell and lights as a matter of routine. There is also a high level of integrity between shopkeepers and customers.
I can also see how my cumulative cross-cultural experiences have helped smooth my adjustment to living in Myanmar. I have somehow arrived at a level where I can be relaxed in new situations where don’t know where I am, what’s being discussed around me or what will happen next. I still look for opportunities to engage, use body language and the few phrases I’ve mastered to connect with others, but I’m not constantly worrying about what I should do or what people think of me.
Overall, I still feel very lucky to be here. I think that living in Myanmar is making me kinder and more relaxed. It is making me more open to spending unstructured time with others, trying new things and seeing what God is doing around me. May we all multiply this kindness in our attentiveness to others, whether they anticipate it or not.
Learn more about about MEDA's Myanmar project by clicking here!